Russell “To teach how to live without certainty, and yet without being paralyzed….” meaning

“To teach how to live without certainty, and yet without being paralyzed by hesitation, is perhaps the chief thing that philosophy, in our age, can still do for those who study it.” – Bertrand Russell, History of Western Philosophy.

This quote from Bertrand Russell is a reflection on the role and value of philosophy. Here, Russell suggests that one of the most important things philosophy can offer is guidance on how to navigate life’s uncertainties.
First, “To teach how to live without certainty” refers to the fact that many aspects of life and knowledge are uncertain, and absolute truths can be elusive. Philosophy, with its focus on critical thinking, questioning, and exploring different perspectives, can help individuals become comfortable with ambiguity and uncertainty.

Second, “and yet without being paralyzed by hesitation” suggests that while we should accept uncertainty, we should not let it prevent us from making decisions or taking action. Philosophy can help us learn how to make reasoned judgments and decisions in the face of uncertainty, without succumbing to indecision or inaction.

Russell is essentially highlighting the practical value of philosophical thinking: it provides tools for managing uncertainty, making reasoned decisions, and leading thoughtful and considered lives, even in the absence of absolute certainty.

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